The House of Commons has for centuries been a place of robust, colourful and often pugnacious debate. This has often been contrasted with the more genteel style of debate conducted in the House of Lords. In both cases, the absolute right of free speech has been established through centuries of prescriptive tradition and in 1689, this ancient right was enshrined in the English Bill of Rights. Beyond this, the doctrine of parliamentary privilege means that free speech in Parliament is immune from any sort of prosecution, most notably, libel.
It is this freedom that has given the great parliamentarians of the past, the ability to expose corruption whilst naming and shaming those who have harmed and seek to harm the country, its people and its institutions.
And yet this week, Labour and Liberal Members of Parliament raised their voices in the name of stripping themselves and their fellow parliamentarians of these ancient rights to free speech. This fit of opposition hysteria stemmed from the fact that the Prime Minister referred to the infamous Benn Act as the “surrender act” and likewise due to the fact that the Prime Minister quite rightly referred to as humbug, the patently absurd suggestion that the use of the term “surrender act” bears any relationship to criminal acts conducted against politicians.
It is not clear if the inexplicable outrage at the Prime Minister’s perfectly mild use of language is a political stunt or a symptom of supreme stupidity. It is in all likelihood a mixture of both. The ringleader of the campaign to abolish centuries of parliamentary free speech is none other than one Jess Phillips, a Labour backbench MP. Phillips once rose in the Commons to seemingly take pride in the fact that she is ignorant of the most fundamental elements of parliamentary procedure. It would appear that Phillips is ignorant about matters pertaining to even more rudimentary concepts – free speech being but one.
And yet, it is not only in parliament that Phillips and her ilk seek to abolish free speech. No sooner than Phillips concluded her semi-literate rant in the Commons, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn released a video on social media condemning the exercise of free speech.
It is perhaps not a surprise that a party under the control of radical utopian socialists (including the Blairites who are actually the biggest closet communists of them all) should be so threatened by the very potential of free speech. The kind of regimes that the likes of today’s Labour party venerate are those which can only survive through not only a repressive and centrally controlled economy, but also those with a centrally controlled censorship apparatus.
But the likes of Phillips are in some ways even more dangerous than their ideological brethren in the former East Germany or North Korea. In East Germany or North Korea, one was severely punished for criticising one’s country. Under the would-be Corbyn-Phillips tyranny, one will be severely punished for praising one’s country, its traditions, its past glories and its future potential. This week in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was indeed speaking on behalf of strengthening an independent Britain and it was his quite mild language in this service that caused the aforementioned hysteria on the opposition benches.
It is a virtual foregone conclusion that Phillips is far too ignorant of history and philosophy to understand these basic concepts, but those who shape the script from which she reads are all too aware that a free society would always reject central control when offered a clear choice between liberty and submission.
This is why it is all the more pathetic that many members of the Conservative party seek to assuage the hysteria of the likes of Phillips rather than to offer a forthright and unflinching defence of free speech combined with an objective warning regarding the censorship that takes place in communist and socialist regimes.
Free speech is the life’s blood of any free and democratic society. Words themselves do not matter because like the air that one breathes, words come and go. But the right to use words without the fear of prosecution matters very much. The authors of the English Bill of Rights understood this even though the Labour party clearly do not.